Plant-based and pretty special; the small plates of Slaw…

Eat the rainbow. Words we’ve tried so hard and so virtuously and so strenuously to live by in recent years that sometimes, the joy seems to have seeped out of mealtimes because let’s be clear, there is no place in this world for undressed leaves. Frankly we have enough to deal with right now without naked cabbage rearing its unadorned head.

Now it’s more like eat the frickin’ kaleidoscope and what an unbridled, uncomplicated, unabashed joy that is to do when places like Slaw make it so easy. Plant-based bowls, flushed with colour and alive with texture, are characteristic of the small, stylish restaurant that opened earlier this year, mere feet from similarly vegan sibling Wild Food Café.

Starting life as a series of supper clubs and opening on Islington’s Upper Street in February, Slaw’s ambition is to make plant-based food both realistic and accessible through the clever handling of fresh, simple ingredients and it’s fantastic to see it sailing past its original predicted residency of five months.

Understated in design, bold in delivery, warm in service, Slaw possesses a quietly assured menu that subtly transforms itself with the changing of the seasons outside; strapping spears of tender early summer asparagus gave way only recently to defiantly blousy legs of broccoli nestled with peas, quinoa and pickled radish.

Small plates are designed to be shared so after starting with pillowy slabs of salt speckled, golden crusted, house made focaccia that’s exactly what we did, picking all the dishes on offer and hesitating only at the mushrooms. Sorry guys but unless they’re squishy, rolled in coconut and found in the local multi-screen pick’n’mix, I can’t get on board with the fungi.

Carrots arrive roasted, pickled and laying across dollops of carrot hummus like the tastiest pile of edible pick-up sticks imaginable. Showcasing the restaurants root-to-stem ethos means the pesto dashed across the top is made from feathery carrot tops and a tangy crumb made from hazelnuts and rye delivers a crunch that lingers nicely making this a must-order.

Beetroot dahl is thick, silky and as pink as Barbie’s dream sports car with a sweet, earthy bite to the lentils that stops it from descending into mush. Topped with a glossy puddle of cucumber raita, this is the dish that chewy, puffy flatbreads were made for scooping up…

…as is the star of the evening – dukkah sprinkled, roasted cherry tomatoes and aubergine with nutty black rice lazily paddling around in a pool of spiced plum tomato sauce. Dreamily creamy with layers of deep, sweet, almost smoky flavour, this is a new take on summers’ bounty of tomatoes that will have you scraping the dish for every last smudge of vivid terracotta.

Florets of cauliflower are tinted golden yellow, fragrant with spices, softly spiked with flaked almonds and draped with a bright, grassy coriander dressing that stops this from being just another Middle Eastern ode to the humble cauli.

The loveliest thing about Slaw is that whilst some of their dishes are aspirational and unlikely to be replicated in your own kitchen, others, like the cauliflower, are easy to imagine throwing together with confidence for a mid-week supper and that’s brilliant because that’s what the best places should do. Deliver food that tastes great and gives you a break from your own dining table but also encourage you to think about how you can take inspiration from their menu for another night.

The current vegan landscape of London is vast and at times it’s unforgiving to those dipping a toe into the waters of plant-based cooking but the honest and passionate exploration of vegetables apparent at Slaw is something to be sought out and celebrated.

Centre stage vegetables with A Bit on the Side’s Ed Smith…

Described as a class full of inspiring side dishes, this demonstration at Divertimenti from Rocket & Squash’s Ed Smith was a welcome breath of fresh, light, flavourful, vegetarian air. Three hours, seven dishes and a lot of chat resulted in a slew of new ideas for both dressing up the supporting acts on your plate and also turning them into dishes worthy enough of being crowned the main event. Familiar, accessible & non-threatening ingredients like cauliflower, carrots & new potatoes sat comfortably alongside arguable wild-cards like seaweed, carrot tops & green tomatoes.

Ed, a former lawyer-turned-blogger-turned-writer-turned-chef, was friendly, easy going and totally at home juggling multiple pans; it felt less like we were in a Brompton Road basement kitchen and more sat round his table at home, dog underfoot & vino in hand. FYI I have no idea if Ed has a dog but he seemed like a nice guy and we all know – cat lovers look away now – that the best people in life have dogs.

The first dish of the night was one that could easily pass as a centrepiece statement rather than being relegated to the ‘sides’ bench. Chunky cauliflower florets were roasted in a mixture of rapeseed oil and cumin salt before being tumbled onto a platter with crispy roasted chickpeas, blanched spring greens and dollops of lemony, sumac sprinkled tahini. The blend of so-hip-they-hurt Middle Eastern flavours paired beautifully with the textures & colours of this minimum-fuss, maximum-flavour dish.IMG_7080Next, two gorgeously simple ways to dress up the kitchen knockout that is the Jersey Royal. One of our loveliest & most seasonal vegetables, usually Elvis-approved amounts of butter and a twist of black pepper are enough to elevate this humble little spud but here, Ed showed us the savoury moreishness of dulse seaweed melted into butter and a traditional-with-a-twist pesto made with ferny carrot top fronds. Vibrant yet delicate and eye-wideningly delicious, these brought the idea of how a Jersey Royal should be served into the modern age of cooking.IMG_7082

IMG_7081A traditional American wedge salad usually arrives drowning in blue cheese dressing and creaking under a mountain of bacon bits; Ed’s lighter & more summery version came with a dill-heavy buttermilk dressing that was joyfully fragrant and worth making double of because life’s too short for skimpy amounts of dressing, translucent radish slices and umami-packed soy seeds & popped quinoa. It may sound like a lot of elements but each took only moments to prepare, making the overall end result well worth the effort.IMG_7089Grilled green tiger tomatoes were sprinkled with white pepper and chilli leaving them fresh, juicy & sharp… IMG_7084…a fennel & tarragon salad delivered a beautifully clean, subtle aniseed tang and carrots were given a new lease of life, one that was silky with brown butter, full of chopped hazelnuts & fresh parsley and pan-to-plate ready in minutes.IMG_7085Great tips such as ‘cauliflower always needs a good 45 minutes to roast properly not the 20 minutes designated by cookbooks on a space-page budget’ and a desire to use the entirety of each vegetable & avoid excess waste were two of the nicest qualities of the evening, along with the fact that everything made could be used on so many more blank canvasses than those we saw painted tonight. Nothing was overly complicated, everything was delicious and it was inspiring, in our increasingly plant based culinary landscape, to see vegetables take their moment in the spotlight.

 

Farm Girl and the latte that won my coffee haters’ heart…

Farm Girl aka the place that made me like coffee. I’m not still quite yet the sort of person who downs triple shots of espresso until I’m as buzzed up as Donald Trump at the thought of a golden arches drive-through but I am now the sort of gal who enjoys a Liquid Gold Latte, made with cinnamon, turmeric & astragalus…

Originally opened in Notting Hill a few years ago when the rush for Aussie goodness in the form of London brunching really took off, Farm Girl delivers on trend ingredients, served beautifully and with a reasonable price-tag. Never take these 3 things lightly in a city where you’d be correct for thinking upon entering that the choice between paying your gas bill or feeding your avo-toast habit will now be an ever permanent question of your life. Read More